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WWII vet visits memorial

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

rccindysimpson@bellsouth.net

Of all his travels, there was still one place that Charles Cunningham wanted to go.

That is why the World War II veteran applied to be part of a group of fellow veterans that travelled by air for a trip to Washington D.C. to see, among other things, the National World War II Memorial.

On Oct. 11, he was part of the third flight from McGhee Tyson Airport, part of a program by Honor Air Knoxville, which hopes to take as many World War II veterans as it can to see the memorial.

“I just can’t thank them enough. I don’t really know how to say thank you to them enough,” Cunningham said.

“It was the last thing I had on my mind. I’ve seen what I want to see of this world now. To me, getting to see the World War II monument, that ended the story for

me.”

Cunningham was especially thankful to volunteer escort, Larry Sheumaker, who was assigned to him and two other veterans, Marvin Moseley and Roy Ogle.

The daylong trip started when the airplane departed Knoxville that morning and landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

After visiting the World War II Memorial, veterans were taken to other monuments around the city, including the Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.

Cunningham said he had contributed donations to help make the World War II Memorial a reality, and he was considered a charter member of that effort.

Cunningham was part of the Pacific fighting during the war, going into the U.S. Army on Feb. 17, 1943, and being discharged Jan. 11, 1946.

When Cunningham finished basic training in Georgia, he joined up with the 174th Infantry Regiment on the West Coast at San Fernando City.

“I was in the regimental headquarters and stationed there in the city park,” Cunningham said.

At that time he was there, the 174th Infantry Regiment was guarding the West Coast, according to Cunningham.

“When night came, it was dark,” he remembered.

Cunningham was later in Camp White, Ore., where the 174th was broken up, leaving only enough to operate a cadre unit to train soldiers.

He eventually became part of the 96th Infantry Division, known as the DeadEyes for their marksmanship.

Cunningham said he was camped at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii at the 13th Replacement Depot with the 96th Division camped across the river.

Six weeks later he was sent to the 96th Division, joining the 383rd Regiment Second Battalion Headquarters Company.

“I fell in there and started to train with them. I made some more new friends,” Cunningham said.

He participated in the invasion of Leyte Island in the Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944.

Cunningham said they landed on the beach that morning, traveling by amphibious craft.

“We were in the swamp grass and water for four days and nights,” Cunningham said.

“Sixty-seven days after we landed on Leyte Island I still had on the clothes I had on when we landed. In fact, all of us did.”

Cunningham also participated in the invasion of Okinawa, Operation Iceberg.

“I went in the fourth wave,” he said.

Cunningham was awarded a Bronze Star during his time in service for his efforts during a mission in Okinawa.

A statement awarding a number of soldiers includes remarks about Cunningham’s mission:

“He worked steadily, even after darkness, to complete his mission. His performance of duty under such  hazardous conditions enabled his battalion to take and hold its position. This heroic action reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.”

“I was classified as a wireman. We laid telephone lines up to our men. I worked forward outpost most of the time,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham explained that during fighting, F and G companies got down in a ravine, routing the Japanese soldiers out of the caves but being pinned down by soldiers from above. Communication was lost.

Cunningham had to go through a village that was enemy territory. He went down a street they had earlier retreated on, including running into a shed to avoid being hit by enemy shells, to run lines to the company.

“I was going toward the enemy territory on that road,” Cunningham said of the road he eventually reached that took him to a blown-out bridge.

When he got to the bridge, he “hollered for somebody,” finding a captain and only nine men with him.

Cunningham said he asked where F Company was, and continued at their direction along the ravine to caves along a creek, placing line the whole time.

“The third time I hollered I got an answer,” Cunningham said. When he got there his phone was not working, having been in the drenching rain.

He took it apart in the dark and reassembled it. When he cranked the phone it worked.

Donations to Honor Air Knoxville may be sent to 7536 Taggart Lane, Knoxville, TN 37938-8996.

Visit www.honorairknoxville.com for information.